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Five Money-Saving Things to Do Before Ringing Out 2016

Hopefully you’re having a wonderful December with all of the holidays and parties this month. And if you’ve spent too much on gifts and decorations, never fear. Here are six ways to save on your accounting and taxes. But hurry, you only have until year-end to cash in a few of these tips.

1. Check your profits

After adjustments, are your books going to show a profit this year? If so, you may want to try to increase business spending before year-end so you won’t have to pay as much in taxes. Consider accelerating larger expenditures to reduce your profits and therefore, your 2016 taxes.

If your business is cash-basis and you pay with a credit card, pay the card off before year-end so that it will fall into this year’s deductions.

There are many tips on business deductions, so check with us to get the full benefit.

2. Eliminate payroll headaches

If your payroll system is causing you pain and suffering, consider switching. Year-end is the best time because switching costs are lower and year-to-date amounts don’t have to be entered. You’ll still want your old system to generate January’s W-2s, but if you start writing 2017 paychecks out of a new system, it will give you a clean break.

And if you’re not sure what system to move to, we have answers.

3. Make January smoother

January is typically a bookkeeper’s busiest month of the year. Many tasks can be done early, such as checking to make sure your W-9s are current and ordering W-2 forms if they are needed. To avoid last-minute headaches, check with us to see what can be done early. It may help keep your accounting costs lower.

You may also want to consider automating more of your accounting system. Adding an app to your existing system may save you time and money in 2017.

4. Give to your favorite charity

Giving to your favorite charity may reduce your personal taxes if you plan to itemize your deductions on Schedule A of Form 1040.

There are many personal deductions that can help reduce your taxes, so check with us for options to minimize your tax payment.

5. Get ready for tax time

Start collecting the documents you need for tax time so they’ll be handy when you need them. You may be able to upload them to your accountant’s portal, or simply set them aside in a special drawer or folder.

Go through your receipts to be sure you communicate all your possible deductions. If you’ve had a major event, such as a move, new child, new marriage, or new job, be sure to mention it to us.

When all of the parties are over and the relatives have left, try these tips to save time and money on your taxes and your accounting in 2017.

Cool Apps: Google Forms

Do you ever need to collect information from your customers? There are many ways to do it: a form in Microsoft Word®, a fillable PDF, and a Web form are all very common. Less common but slicker than the rest is the option of using Google Forms.

You’ll need a Google ID, and most people use their gmail account for this. Go to Google Drive from your menu, or you can access it from this URL: https://drive.google.com.

In Google Forms, you can have customers complete a line or paragraph of text, select from multiple choice, check a box, select from a dropdown, rate an item on a linear scale, or enter a date or time. To design the form, decide what questions you want to ask your customers.

Start creating your new form by clicking the button labeled New in the top left corner of the screen and select More, then Google Forms.

Title the form by typing over Untitled Form. Your first question is already formatted for you. Multiple choice is selected, and you can change the question type by clicking the arrow on the right side of the Multiple Choice option. Over on the left, you can type your first question or label. Let’s say you need to know their name, so you would enter “Name” in the field and change the question type to Short Answer.

To add a field, click the plus sign on the vertical menu to the right of the form. Repeat this until you have all your form fields entered. If you need to add instructions, choose the TT option on the vertical menu just below the plus sign. You can also add images, video, and sections to your form using this menu.

Clicking the Send button allows you to email the form, get a link (click the chain icon), or add it to a web page (click the <>).

There are dozens of options and settings for your form. You can change colors (palette icon at top right), preview your form (eye at top right), or modify your settings (gear icon). The three vertical dots at the top right provide more functions. If you need a team member to access the responses or edit the form, you can Add Collaborator from this menu. You can even turn the form into a quiz.

Once people start submitting their answers, you can review them by clicking the Responses tab at the top of the form.

Google Forms are versatile, professional-looking, and best of all, free. Give them a try next time you need to collect information from your clients.

Is There Really a 4-Hour Workweek?

Tim Ferriss made the 4-hour workweek a popular concept in his 2007 book.  But is there such a thing, and more importantly, can business owners like you and me cash in on it?  As the last of the Baby Boomers approach retirement, the topic of working less while making the same or more income is popular.

Here are five ideas to help you work fewer hours while making the same or more income.

Active vs. Automatic Revenue

Some business models allow you to generate automatic revenue.  Automatic revenue is revenue you can earn and leverage over time by doing something only once and not over and over again.  Active revenue is earned while doing something over and over again.  Showing up for a teaching job with a live audience is active revenue while producing and selling video recordings of the same teaching is automatic revenue.

A goal of a 4-hour workweek concept is to increase automatic revenue while reducing active revenue.  You may have to think out of the box to do this in your industry, but the payoff can be huge.

Delegation and Outsourcing

One traditional way to move to a 4-hour workweek is to have others do the work.  Hiring staff frees up your time and allows your business to become scalable.  When it runs without you, it’s more salable too.

Time Batching

If you have a lot of distractions in your day, you can easily double your productivity by learning time batching, which is grouping like tasks together in a block or batch of time and getting them done.  For example, if an employee interrupts you with questions multiple times a day, train them to come to you only once a day to get all their questions handled at one time.  Take your calls one after the other in a group, and then stay off the phone the rest of the day.  Do the same with email, social media, running errands, and all of your other tasks.

Automation and Procedures

New apps save an amazing amount of time. List all of your time-consuming chores and then find an app that helps you get them done faster.  For example, a scheduling app can reduce countless emails back and forth when setting meetings and appointments.  To-do list or project management software can cut down on emails among you and your staff.  And apps like Zapier can connect two apps that need to share data, reducing data entry.

Leverage

The key to working less is to embrace the concept of leverage.  How can you leverage the business resources around you to save time, increase staff productivity, and improve profits?  It takes discipline and change, two difficult goals to accomplish.  But when you do, you will be rewarded.

Signs You Might Be Outgrowing Your Accounting System

If you’re struggling with your accounting system, it might be a sign that you’re ready for something new.  Perhaps your company has grown so much that it’s outgrown its older accounting solution.  Here are several indications to look for that justify moving to an accounting system with more features and scalability.

User Permissions

Some companies have a need to limit certain functions to certain users.  Most systems come with basic functional limitations, such as restricting Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable functions.  But what if you need more granular user permissions such as access to only purchase orders or a certain bank account?  Mid-market systems like QuickBooks Enterprise provide those features.

Multiple Companies and Consolidated Financial Statements

Do you have multiple companies that are the “children” of a parent company?  You might need consolidated financial statements and the ability to open multiple companies at the same time.

Number of Customers and Vendors    

If your business is growing and the number of customers and vendors you do business with exceeds 14,500, you will have reached a list limit in QuickBooks Premier.  Each system has their own list limits, and these limits can get complex quickly, so check with us if you feel you are getting close.

File Size and Performance 

There may also be file size limits that you need to watch, especially if you have a high volume of transactions or multiple years of history in one file.

You could also have performance issues.  If you have a new PC and your accounting system is still running slowly, we can help you improve your performance by condensing your file or setting preferences differently before you have to switch.

Inventory Features

A mid-market system like QuickBooks Enterprise provides advanced features, such as tracking inventory in multiple locations, using the FIFO method, and managing lots or serial numbers.  If you need these features, it may be worth it to switch.

Enhanced Customization   

Most mid-market accounting systems provide better customization such as additional custom fields, better reporting, and improved form design.

Number of Simultaneous Users

The final reason to switch to a larger accounting system is if you need more simultaneous users.  QuickBooks Pro allows for up to three simultaneous users, QuickBooks Premier handles up to five, and QuickBooks Enterprise makes room for up to 30 simultaneous users.  QuickBooks Online allows up to 25 simultaneous users.   Check with us if you are curious about your system’s license limits.

Did any of these reasons resonate with you?  If so, let us know so we can discuss your needs.

A Quick Primer on Crowdfunding

An interesting way to fund your dream project, whether you are a startup or a more established business, is to consider crowdfunding.  Crowdfunding is when many people provide the money in small amounts for a project.

Although crowdfunding is not new, it became much more popular when organizations like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, RocketHub, and GoFundMe created web platforms to enable this method of raising funds.  The 2015 crowdfunding market is estimated at $34 billion and is growing exponentially.

In crowdfunding, the person who initiates the project receives the money that the people contribute.  The web platform that supports the project usually gets a percentage of what’s raised.  It varies as to what the people who contribute to the project receive in return.  It can be the payback of a loan with interest, shares of stock, rewards, or a possible tax write-off in the case of a donation.

You probably hear about companies that get funded overnight, making it look easy to create a successful crowdfunding campaign.  There is a lot that goes into the launch of a successful campaign.  Here are some steps:

  1. Design your project and research how much money you need
  2. Choose your platform (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc.).  This requires careful research about which platform is best for your type of project as well as a complete understanding of the rules and limitations of that platform.  For example, on Kickstarter, if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get any money, including what you have partially raised.
  3. Create a video that tells your story and makes the pitch.  You must not only grab attention but appeal to both the rational and emotional sides of your followers.  You must also provide an enticing reward for your followers.
  4. Count your followers.  Do you have enough to raise the capital you need?  If not, create the marketing you need to build your followers and make your numbers.
  5. Gain some big name backers if you possibly can.
  6. Develop a carefully orchestrated launch using multiple marketing channels, including social media and press.

With the explosive growth in crowdfunding, it’s here to stay.  Consider how it may help your business grow.

5 Steps to Move Your Marketing into the 21st Century

If it’s been a while since you’ve adopted new marketing methods, it might be time, especially if you want to attract younger customers. Here are five ideas to do just that.

1. Video

With YouTube as the second largest search engine, using video in your marketing is a slam-dunk return on investment. If there is an educational aspect to your sales cycle, a video is perfect to get the message across.

Even better news is that many companies still haven’t caught on to how powerful video can be in marketing, so you will have an advantage. There is no longer a financial barrier to entry as most videos are no longer professionally made.

There are so many ways to create video: using a webcam, capturing your screen with webinar software or TechSmith’s Camtasia®, or even using your cell phone. If you have a gmail address, you already have a YouTube account, and you can easily crate and customize your own YouTube channel.

The hardest part of adding video to your marketing is to simply take the leap.

2. Social Media

Social media is now one of the best places for a business to expand brand awareness. LinkedIn provides customers with a way to discover your background. It’s also a good source of new employees. Facebook and Google+ enable you to build community and learn more about the interests of your customers.

Twitter is perfect for announcing sales and boosting event excitement. YouTube enhances education and motivation. Pinterest for Business and Instagram are perfect for retail to showcase new products. Tumblr is a must if you market to teens.

If you’re new to social media, choose one or two sites and set up your profile. If you already have some social media profiles, consider expanding or increasing your activity.

3. Content Marketing

Content marketing is another way to educate your customers before and during the sales cycle. With content marketing, you creates a report, white paper, or educational video that describes a topic congruent with your services. The content is typically “gated,” meaning the prospect needs to provide email address or phone number or both, so that you can follow up on the lead. The content should be enticing and educational and should also introduce the prospect to your brands and services without being heavy handed about it.

Content marketing is a great lead generator, especially if you have a sales staff that can deliver scripted follow-up calls.

4. Mobile and Wearables

Over a year ago, Google proclaimed there are now more mobile searches than desktop searches. For the last few years, it’s been increasingly important to make sure your website delivers a great experience via mobile technology.

Wearables are growing as fast as mobile did. Innovative companies are providing a rich customer experience through wearables. It’s now common to see wearables in health, sports, household automation, and virtual reality entertainment. But others are having fun with creative solutions, such as British Airways blankets that turn a color based on a passenger’s mood and Nivea’s children’s sunblock that comes with a GPS bracelet tracker so the kid doesn’t stray too far away.

5. Marketing Automation and Integration

Today, the entire marketing funnel can pretty much be automated, from SEO-enhanced social media posts to landing pages using content marketing to follow up emails, videos, and shopping cart links. Almost every business needs a website, list management system, shopping cart, social media automation app, and a CRM, Customer Relationship Manager. With this automation, you may be able to reduce sales labor as well as customer support expenses.

Integration of multiple marketing channels and methods is essential as the buying decision has become more complex and trust is built slowly over time. Successful marketers are integrating SEO (search engine optimization) with social media, video with content marketing, and email marketing with landing pages, to name a few.

Try any of these five trends to give your marketing a future-focused boost.

Beyond Saving Trees: New Trends in Receipt Management

Accounting automation has come a long way in the last few years, and the process of handling invoices and receipts is included in those changes. No longer is there a mountain of paperwork to deal with. In this article, we’ll explain some of the changes in this area.

Vendor Invoices

Most invoices are now sent electronically, often through email or from accounting system to accounting system. Some accounting systems allow the invoice document, usually in PDF format, to be attached to the transaction in the accounting system. This feature makes it easy for vendor support questions as well as any audit that may come up.

Some systems are smart enough to “read” the invoice and prepare a check with little or no data entry. Others are able to automate three-way matching – this is when you match a purchase order, packing slip, and invoice together – so that time is saved in the accounts payable function.

Receipts

Today’s systems allow you or your bookkeeper to scan in or take cell phone photos of receipts – whether cash or credit card – and then “read” them and record the transaction. This type of system cuts way down on data entry and allows the accountants to focus on more consultative work rather than administrative work.

Some vendors will email you receipts so all you have to do is use a special email address where your accountant is copied or forward the receipt as you receive it.

The biggest challenge for business owners is getting into the habit of photographing the receipt and sending it to the accountant. The days of shoebox receipts are not completely over, but cloud-savvy business owners are definitely enjoying the alternative options of today’s paperless world.

Approvals

Some systems automate bill approval. This is especially handy for nonprofits or companies with a multi-person approval process. It cuts down on approval time and the time it takes to pay the bill.

New Systems

Here is a short list of new systems that automate a part of the vendor payment or receipt management system. There are a lot more, in addition to your core accounting system, and all of them have different features, platforms, software requirements, integration options, and pricing.

  1. Bill.com
  2. Hubdoc
  3. Receipt Bank
  4. Expensify
  5. SmartVault
  6. Doc.it
  7. Tallie
  8. Concur
  9. LedgerSync
  10. ShoeBoxed
  11. ShareFile
  12. DropBox

If you are interested in finding out more about automating your accounts payable invoices or receipts, please reach out anytime.

Cool Social Media Apps: Instagram

With over 400 million active users monthly, Instagram could be a great opportunity to showcase your business. It’s a mobile app where you can share photos and videos. Instagram is owned by Facebook and is considered one of the major social media platforms.

Instagram is a natural app to share photos of your products, team, customers, or office in order to promote your business. Since more than half of all Google searches are now mobile, it just makes good business sense to maintain a presence on a major mobile social platform like Instagram.

The average Instagram user is female, urban, under 30, has some college hours, and makes $60K a year. So if that’s your customer demographic, you’re sure to find her on Instagram.

Some of the things you can share on Instagram include:

  • Photos of your customers with their new merchandise
  • Product photos
  • Your logo image
  • Inspirational quotes and sayings
  • Client testimonials made into a text graphic
  • Photos of events
  • Photos of your customers
  • Photos of you and your staff
  • Photos of your store or office
  • Photos of your merchandise being worn, used, eaten, or whatever
  • Images of any awards your company has garnered
  • Photos of your ads, trade show booth, or other marketing materials
  • Sales announcements made into a text graphic
  • And videos of all of the above

Building a following on Instagram will help you build brand awareness so you can generate new traffic and new customers. It can also help with hiring if you are looking to hire millennials, which now outnumber any other generation in the workforce.

Add a VIP Revenue Stream to Your Business

If you’re looking for more ways to bring in additional revenue, then a VIP revenue stream is one option for many businesses. Here are a couple of examples:

A plastic surgeon has a long waiting line of patients. The surgeon sets up a special membership fee of $3,000 per year for patients who wish to work with her. These patients get first access to her appointment schedule. They get priority surgery dates and personal care. Her other patients that do not pay are able to see her physician assistant. She earns an extra $300K — insurance-hassle-free — for the hundred patients who join her VIP group.

A pizza restaurant always has long lines during rush hours. The owner sets up a VIP membership of $75 per year for customers who want to bypass the long lines. He dedicates one of his cash registers to the VIP line and staffs it accordingly during rush hour. He sends specials by email and a birthday coupon to the VIP members. Five hundred customers sign up, grossing an extra $37,500 with little or no additional expenses.

A consultant has a couple of clients that want to have access to her 24/7. She sets up a special retainer of $1,500 per month for these clients and provides her cell number. Since they are busy CEOs, they only call a few times a year, but when they do, she drops everything to be of service. With four clients on retainer, it’s an extra $72K per year for a few days of work.

No matter who your clientele is, there are always a few who demand extraordinary service and are willing to pay extra for it. Capitalize on this by adding a VIP revenue stream to your offerings.

What you include in your VIP package will vary by industry, but here are a few thoughts:

  • Increased access to you
  • Special service, perhaps via another phone line or checkout lane
  • Invitation to exclusive events or sales or previews
  • Free gift wrapping
  • Free shipping
  • Special gifts
  • Friends are free
  • A richer experience
  • Birthday acknowledgement
    • A VIP offering is not the same as a points program. A points program encourages volume sales, while a VIP program is all about special perks, exclusivity, and a higher level of service.

      Does your business lend itself to a VIP offering? If so, give it a try.

5 Metrics to Gauge Your Business Performance

Sometimes, the most telling numbers in your business are not necessarily on the monthly reports. Although the foundation of your finances revolves around the balance sheet and income statement, there are a few numbers that, when known and tracked, can make a huge impact on your business decision-making. Here are five:

1. Revenue per employee.

Even if you are a solo business owner, revenue per employee can be an interesting number. It’s easy to compute: take total revenue for the year and divide by the number of employees you had during the year. You may need to average the number in case you had turnover or adjust it for part-time employees.

Whether your number is good or bad depends on the industry you’re in as well as a host of other factors. Compare it to prior years; is the number increasing (good) or decreasing (not so good)? If it’s decreasing you might want to investigate why. It could be you have many new employees who need training so that your productivity has slipped. It could also be that revenue has declined.

2. Customer acquisition cost.

If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank®, you know that CAC is one of the most important numbers for investors. This is how much it costs you in marketing and selling costs to acquire a new client. Factors such as annual revenue, or even lifetime value of a client will affect how low or high you can allow this number to go.

3. Cash burn rate.

How fast do you go through cash? The cash burn rate calculates this for you. Compute the difference between your starting and ending cash balances and divide that number by the number of months it covers. The result is a monthly value. This is especially important for startups that have not shown a profit yet so they can figure out how much cash they need to borrow or raise to fund their venture.

4. Revenue per client.

Revenue per client is a good measure to compare from year to year. Are clients spending more or less with you, on average, than last year?

5. Customer retention.

If you are curious as to how many customers return year after year, you can compute your client retention percentage. Make a list of all the customers who paid you money last year. Then create a list of customers who have paid you this year. (You’ll need to two full years to be accurate). Merge the two lists. Count how many customers you had in the first year. Then count the customers who paid you money in both years. The formula is:

Number of customer who paid you in both years / Number of customers in the first or prior year * 100 = Customer retention rate as a percentage

New customers don’t count in this formula. You’ll be able to see what percentage of customers came back in a year. You can also modify this formula for any length of time you wish to measure.

Try any of these five metrics so you’ll gain richer financial information about your business’s performance. And as always, if we can help, be sure to reach out.

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